I haven’t yet had much of a vacation this summer but I can tell you, I almost feel as though I have “pre-vacation blues.”

Actually, it’s probably a sign that I really need a vacation, real time away from work. And yes, time away from that blackberry; I confess, I’m hooked.

Barbara Bowes

I’m just craving an opportunity for some personal time to read a book that isn’t related to business; to sink my teeth into a real exciting mystery. And spend time with family. I’m longing for a relaxing time sitting in a cottage, looking at beautiful blue water and listening to the lapping of the waves.

While I’ll soon get my turn, I’m surprised at how my longing for a vacation is so psychologically and physically real. It has certainly made me realize that the concept of “post-vacation blues” at the end of a vacation is a lot more real than people realize. Post-vacation blues occur when people return from holidays, especially after a break of three or four weeks.

While some people dread the thought of returning to work, others begin the day with a bright, cheery smile only to later arrive at home feeling exhausted, disgruntled and angry and confused as to why they are feeling that way.

The blues represent a sense of sadness or inexplicable feeling of anxiety, restlessness, irritability or impatience. Although most of us will bounce back within a short time, it is a rather odd feeling to experience sadness right after a nice vacation.

At the same time, if we expect some sort of psychological adjustment when returning to work, we can take several steps to help us through the process. Some ideas for making the adjustment back to work include the following:

Pre-filter your email: In addition to placing that “out of office” auto reply on your email messages, sanction someone to review all the messages during your absence and to prioritize critical ones that you need to see immediately upon your return. That will reduce much of your frustration during the first hour back to work.

Schedule a transition day: Plan to spend at least one day at home prior to returning to work. Be sure to use this day for personal relaxation rather than trying to catch up on all the yardwork or housework that’s waiting to be done. Get to bed early and have a good night’s rest.

Bring a photo or souvenir to work: Bring one photo or a complete album to work and share it with your colleagues. Talk about the highlights of your travel. Post at least one photo at your desk so that you can periodically look at it. If possible, also bring a holiday souvenir, something physical that you can put on your desk and touch.

Discuss happenings with your boss: Meet with your boss and find out what has occurred during your absence. Are there critical issues that need your immediate attention? Learning about organizational priorities will help you to sort your own work priorities for when you get back to your workstation.

Go easy: Get yourself organized. If you can, start with the tasks that can be completed quickly or at least within one day so that you will feel a sense of accomplishment. Feeling a sense of achievement will give your mood a boost and will ward off the onset of the blues. Plan out the rest of the week, moving toward more complex tasks that will require more time. The more control you can have over your first week back at work, the better you will feel.

Take a break: If it isn’t raining, then go outside for a walk during your lunch hour. Head for the closest park bench, sit, enjoy and absorb the energy around you. Pay attention to the birds, the grass, the flowers and the sunshine. Let nature touch you once again. Spend a bit of time reflecting on your vacation but also recognize the beauty right there in front of you.

Think positive: Going through personal change, even something as simple as returning from vacation, causes us to go through a very normal grief cycle. Recognize that your feelings are normal and that you will get over this sensitivity within a few days. Write out some positive messages for yourself, then post them on your computer at work and your mirror at home.

Go for an evening walk: If possible, do something relaxing at the end of your first day. This could represent an evening walk, a bicycle ride or a drive around your neighbourhood. Getting re-oriented will help to get you back into routine both at home and at work. — Post photos at home: Post your vacation memories on the fridge, on your computer screen or in one of those electronic photo albums that allow your photos to circulate and revolve through your entire vacation experience. Spend a few moments every day reviewing the photos, smile with the memories and then return to your home tasks.

Share memories with family: Family members are always curious about your vacation. Give them a call and/or pay them a visit. Elderly family members, in particular, would welcome a visit, good conversation and a review of your photos. If you met friends or family on your vacation, send thank-you cards accompanied by photos.

Power up your exercise routine: As soon as you can, adopt your personal exercise routine, as this is a healthy means to maintain good spirits. If you have been away for a while, start slow and don’t overdo it. Pace yourself.

Take it easy: One of the things you are probably guilty of is getting involved in too many activities. You are working all day, driving kids to multiple games and practices in the evening and volunteering here and there. In other words, too many obligations and too little time; soon you won’t even know you had a vacation. Stop; get off the roller-coaster of busyness!

In summary, if pre-vacation stress is real, then guaranteed “post -vacation blues” are very real as well. Yet there are many small steps you can take both at home and at work to mitigate the stress of returning to work.

Barbara J. Bowes, FCHRP, CMC is president of Legacy Bowes Group, a Manitoba-based talent management solutions firm. She is also host of the weekly Bowes Knows radio show and is the author of the newly released bestseller, Resume Rescue. She can be reached at [email protected] 

This initially appeared in the August 7, 2010 edition of The Winnipeg Free Press